It is difficult to fathom that anything will top Hibernian’s famous Scottish Cup victory in May following a tortuous 114-year wait. Defender Lewis Stevenson, however, admits a maiden Championship title win could do just that.
As 2016 draws to a close with a clash at Falkirk today, the full-back looks back on the last 12 months with mixed emotions. The pain of losing the League Cup final to Ross County in March was compounded by the agony of falling short in the promotion play-offs following a semi-final defeat by the Bairns.
The gloom of last season was dispersed when the team ended 114 years of Scottish Cup heartache with a memorable victory over Rangers on a glorious day at Hampden.
Long-serving Stevenson, however, insists taking the chequered flag in the league could mean even more to him.
He said: “Would the league top the Scottish Cup? It’s a hard one. I’ve never been promoted, so I don’t know exactly what it feels like. But, right now, that’s the best thing we can hope for.
“I can’t really say what it’s going to feel like until it happens. But this is what we’re working for every day, to win this league.
“The cups are a bonus. A nice bonus if you win one. Throughout the season, you want to claim that final bit of enjoyment, winning promotion. That will be right up there with anything I’ve experienced.
“Winning promotion has been our main priority for three seasons. Even last year, the cup was just a bonus because we’d been so disappointing in the play-offs. It almost papered over the cracks of not getting promoted. This year, it has to be our priority, getting back into the top flight.
“Winning the Scottish Cup was a great achievement and we enjoyed it at the time. But we need to focus on the league now. What we did at Hampden in May is in the past – we can’t dwell on that.”
Neil Lennon’s side were knocked off the summit by Dundee United, who are two points clear, for the first time in nearly three months following the Christmas Eve stalemate with Raith Rovers but Stevenson insists he will not lose any sleep over the fact they are now playing catch-up.
“I never really look at the league,” insisted Stevenson. “Obviously you want to be on top but I’d rather be on top at the start of May – that’s when I start looking at it.
“We’re still in a better position, I believe, than we were at this stage last year. If you want to look at it that way, we’re moving forward.
“The last couple of weeks haven’t been great, two draws [against Morton and Raith], but we played all right against Raith, in particular.
“I don’t care how we play on Saturday, as long as we get a win. Every game is massive now. We need to pick up as many points as we can, regardless of the opposition.”
Falkirk defender Peter Grant made his comeback from a cruciate ligament injury in the final two minutes of last month’s 1-1 draw with Hibs at Easter Road, when Peter Houston’s side had to play with ten men for over an hour following Tom Taiwo’s red card.
But, after starts against Dumbarton and Dunfermline in the last two matches, the 22-year-old believes he has returned an improved player. He said: “It was a long nine months or so out and when you’re on the sidelines for that length of time it’s pretty hard to take.
“It’s been about keeping a mental focus for me. I was always confident in what I was going to achieve at the end of it.
“I knew I was probably going to come back a better player and a stronger player, and I feel like I have – I feel I’ve come back sharper, stronger, physically and mentally better.
“It’s about focusing on my football, making sure that’s in the past and giving my all to Falkirk and giving us the best chance of going up this season.
“We’ll take confidence into this one. We’ll try to give the fans something to get excited about.”